Rejoice! This is the instruction we are given at the beginning of Mass today. We are well and truly into the Advent mood now and this instruction comes to put our Advent preparations into context. But what do we have to rejoice about?
The Gospel presents us with the rather odd figure of John the Baptist. The Lord proclaims that no greater man than he has been born. It’s clear that John the Baptist has much to rejoice about. What entitles him to this great honour?
John the Baptist was on the edge. His diet and his dress sense were weird, his living environment less than desirable. These things matter little to John. He was quite clear about his mission, and that was his sole focus. He was tasked with preparing the hearts of the people to receive the great joy of the Messiah. He preached to them a clear message of repentance, that they must turn away from sin so that they can recognise him when he comes. He gave them a baptism of repentance, a symbol of their liberation from the slavery of sin, which made them ready to greet their Redeemer. People flocked to him to listen and to be baptised. He fulfilled his task with great zeal and passion.
In today’s gospel, he is making contact with the Lord from prison, for he has heard the Lord’s actions. The authorities have locked him away, for the message he preaches terrifies them. Yet John is someone who cannot be imprisoned because it is impossible. Yes, you can lock him up. But you cannot imprison someone who has truly repented with a full heart. Even though John cannot see the Lord face to face, he is able to recognise him through the thick walls of a prison. The words conveyed to him by the Lord most certainly would make John rejoice.
Repentance is a huge problem for us because it demands we examine every aspect of our lives. There are lots of areas where we are simply not ready for repenting. It’s painful for us to break free from patterns of sin that seem to give us comfort and make us happy. We think we will miss them and suffer without them. There are lots of things in our lives that we don’t want to admit are sinful, and sometimes when we look at the extent of our sinfulness we can become disheartened, and think that repentance is pointless. It is, however, necessary if we desire to receive our Saviour.
Reflecting on all these things over the last few weeks of Advent, we might be getting a little bogged down in it all. That’s why the Church tells us to rejoice. There’s no doubt that the gospel is demanding, but we have the great joy of God’s grace and the fellowship of each other spurring us on to true repentance. We have the great comfort of God’s mercy which means we don’t need to languish in slavery to sin. We’re right on the threshold of our complete happiness. We’re on the very edge of true joy.
This Sunday reminds us that, like John the Baptist, we’re on the edge. We need to edge our way closer to true repentance because that’s where we find our joy. Our salvation is a work in progress. Let’s continue through Advent to encourage each other in prayer both to repent and rejoice.